Gather round, and speak to me of dewclaws

With Bronte due sometime soon and since I have been thinking a great deal about Cardigan feet and bones, I suppose it’s only natural that I’ve spent a bit of time considering the dewclaw, and specifically whether it should stay or it should go. (Just to be clear, this is my own internal conversation — Bronte’s litter is Kate’s, not mine, and I trust her completely to make any decisions with those puppies. It’s for me as I think about eventual breeding that puts puppies in my own living room.)

I’ve never removed any from my Dane puppies. Lucy (my first bitch) came to me with no dews but everyone else has had them. I have personally witnessed, hundreds of times and on a daily basis, dogs using them with intent and great finesse. They use them to grasp and manipulate things (when holding bones between the front paws, for example) and they groom eyes and ears with them. I always felt a little bad for Lucy because she had to rub her face on the side of her leg but the others would carefully and very adeptly find exactly the itch or the bit of gook in their eyes and get it with the dewclaw.

Then there’s the fact dogs use their dewclaws when running, especially when cornering. I’ve seen this one too–when they corner you’ll see them extend and dig in the claw. It’s a joint they DO control and it has a surprising amount of movement and strength, considering that we usually just see it sitting there.

I’ve also seen my share of toe injuries but never a dewclaw injury to the front ones. The front dews can generally be ground back even further than the toes, so none of my dogs with dewclaws has ever had more than a short thick straight nail; there is nothing to catch or tear. The back ones strike me as more dangerous, though Bastoche, That Cursed Dog has both of his back dews and I was shocked at how complete the anatomy is. There’s no connecting bone (I understand that in some of the working dogs there is a bone) but there’s a little arterial pulse that you can feel quite clearly and the claw is well developed.

And, anyway, I am always leery of the argument that anything should be removed because of possible injury – so to prevent a remotely possible wound we should create a very certain one? It strikes me as very illogical. It’s also the same reasoning that has people cropping and docking, practices that I personally despise and refuse to take part in.

In fact, that reminds me of a herding/working board I was once reading where an OES owner was talking about how stupid people who didn’t dock tails were, and told a story of an OES who got his tail into the fire on the hearth and nearly set the house on fire. The responders on the thread chimed in; by the end of the thread you’d think OES tails were the force behind Communism in Eastern Europe.  The VERY NEXT THREAD was about bearded collies and what great dogs they were. On the same board, the next day someone was talking about how essential it was to crop Dane ears; on the same page was a thread about livestock guard dogs standing up to wolves and bears on a regular basis. Does no one get the irony? Beardies do the same things, have the same very long hair, and are even closer to the ground than OES are–but every single one gets to keep his tail. Danes spend most of their lives on couches and soft beds, while Anatolian/Akbash, Maremma, Pyr, and the other Big White Dogs spend their entire lives outside in incredibly rough terrain, actively driving off and even fighting with other climax predators, and sometimes don’t have human contact for days or weeks at a time. They have the same ear shape. So why is it so imperative that the Dane lose hers?

If tails are a clear and present danger, they are a danger to ALL dogs. If ears are a clear and present danger, they are a danger to ALL dogs. If cropping is beneficial, it should be part of the expectations for every dog with dropped ears. If docking is protective, every dog should be docked.  Apropos of dewclaws, the LGDs and Briards and so on not only keep their front dews but both back ones. If dewclaws are clearly not a major issue for livestock dogs, who are the hardest working and least supervised dogs in the world, why are they somehow ticking timebombs on the wrists of Cardigans? None of it has ever made any sense to me when I examine the arguments logically.

You’re probably getting by now the fact that I don’t like the idea of removing them. I agree that it makes the leg look prettier but I am not into procedures for the sake of looks unless there’s absolutely no detriment to the animal. When I started with Clue I figured I was just going to have to deal with removing them in Cardi puppies, figured it was part of being a good Cardi breeder, but I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the thought.

So… I know that removal of dewclaws is in the Cardi standard. I know that in the archives of showcardi-L there are at least some people who have finished Cardis with dewclaws. Does anyone have any stories or advice that can push me either way? I’d especially like to hear if anyone has seen a genuine prejudice against them in the ring.

8 thoughts on “Gather round, and speak to me of dewclaws

  1. I’ve never shown a dog with dewclaws, so I can’t speak about whether there is bias in the ring or not. I will say that I don’t see many WITH dewclaws…in fact I can only think of one or two occasions in about 9 years of showing (not that I’m always paying attention to that). I can also say that in the case of at least one of the dogs that still had them the dog was from an, ahem, less than well-respected breeder in my area and was being shown by a newbie. And it was discussed among the “responsible” breeders as “he/she didn’t even remove the dewclaws!”. Whether it would have even been brought up if the dog had been bred by someone else, I don’t know.

  2. obviously, I don’t belong to the Dog Show world, or the Cardi world so my opinion means very little as far as your final decision as a breeder. But right now after reading this post, I respect you so much more and am hereby sworn to you as your #1 fangirl.

  3. Not knowing what part of the world you are writing from I can only say that the UK Kennel Club is gradually omitting the requirement for dew claw removal from the breed standards that have said in the past that it is required.

  4. Coming from a field/sporting background, and hanging out in woods, and fields often (I live in “the grass seed capitol of the world”), I’m a HUGE fan of no loose dewclaws on dogs. Cove, our mutt has hurt his loose front dewclaws (He has both front dews). We’d actually talked to the vet about removing them, but he’s had some sensitivity to anesthetics in the past, so we’ve held off putting him under unless there’s another reason.

    As a small child, one of the most tragic events was when my buddy dog, a Springer with front dews, got a dewclaw caught on something while we were out running through the fields, and woods, and tore it about 5 inches up her leg! There was blood EVERYWHERE, and it was all out gruesome! It was quite traumatic for her, and the recovery time was long. It was a massive wound, and she was on crate-rest for a couple weeks, for something it would have taken her breeder a couple minutes to remove.

    So having personal experience with rural dogs having hurt dews, I’m not a fan of leaving dewclaws. On the topic of conformation, I wouldn’t care about front dews on a Cardigan, but I personally think rear dews would be ugly… JMHO though.

    While I’m a huge fan of tails, and personally greatly dislike cropped ears (they look stupid, and much too artificial to me, so I can’t ever see owning a cropped dog…), I personally prefer dogs to have no loose dews, as the risk of injury, is one I’ve personally seen, and don’t like to live with.

  5. I forgot to say earlier (too busy gushing) that Ellie’s got her dewclaws on her front legs and definitely uses them for bones, and even when she’s “troubleshooting” her Kong with a cookie inside — which is hilarious to watch. It’s almost like a thumb! She doesn’t have any on her hind legs and I have no idea if they were removed by the breeder or if she didn’t have any at birth (the paperwork I got from the Rescue doesn’t say). I imagine Coondogs definitely need those front dewclaws for climbing & treeing… ? Now you’ve got me wondering and I’ll have to learn more about this.

    I wonder if you couldn’t just decide to leave the dews alone in your Cardi puppies unless you, in your wisdom as The Breeder, determine that they are too loose? I’ve never spent much time with really young puppies, so I’m not sure how possible that is, if you can tell or not when they’re that little whether the dewclaws are too “loose”.

  6. We leave the front dewclaws on the German Shepherds, but I have to say almost every working adult at some point or other in his or her life has broken the bone connecting the dew claw to the leg. It’s incredibly painful for the dog and there’s not much to be done to treat it.

    But, I’d say they reason they break is because they USE them.

    I’m glad they aren’t removed (rear ones are, but they are unusual in puppies), but I can understand the argument for removal.

  7. Hi, I’m a breeder of Red Standard Poodles and Russian Wolf Hounds (Borzoi) I do not remove any body parts by amputation.
    The CKC (Canadian Kennel Club) changed the breed standard for Poodles around 5 years ago, to state, *tail may be docked* dewclaws may be removed* to allow natural dogs. Most Breeders are not aware of this change and continue to state that they are not allowed to show natural dogs.
    Because I have not amputated the tail or cut off the thumbs (dewclaws) I can export my pups to European show homes… I am very happy to state that Dayspring Pups are now being shown in Germany and Sweden.
    For folks who are curious about how a poodle looks with a natural tail go to my websites.

    To this blog owner, thank you for making statements calling for change, and for giving me the opportunity to say I agree.

    katrina schumacher
    Central Alberta
    Dayspring Poodles in Shades of Red
    and Russian Wolfhounds

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